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Gold Medalists with a Conscience


Gold Medalists with a Conscience
By Michael Webb -
Bega Gantenbrink-Leuchten has participated in the project

The American Institute of Architects used to award its gold medal to celebrated practitioners with global practices, but – like the Pritzker Prize Jury – they have recently widened their focus to include less familiar names. This year’s winner is the partnership of Angela Brooks and Lawrence Scarpa, a 22-person Los Angeles practice that has had an outsized influence on their profession and the craft of building. As a letter nominating them for the award explained, “They are motivated by a social responsibility and environmental stewardship that seeks ways to improve the livability of cities and ennoble the daily lives of their citizens”.

Brooks and Scarpa grew up in Florida, met and married at university there, moved to southern California and established their L.A. practice in 1991. Gwynne Pugh was a third founding partner but left to open his own office in 2010. From the start, the practice was committed to innovation. Each project – in housing, commerce, education and culture – is freshly thought out. Well before sustainability became a mandate for the profession, these architects were aiming for, and sometimes achieving, net zero.
A high proportion of the firm’s buildings are rated LEED Platinum. The house that Larry Scarpa remodeled for his family in the Venice district of L.A. is called Solar Umbrella, an apt name for a model of active and passive environmental strategies. Colorado Court, an affordable housing project in Santa Monica completed in 2002, is clad in translucent blue-toned solar panels. Scarpa had to fight bureaucratic constraints and the hostility of utilities to create this self-sufficient building.

“At the start of my practice I would look at affordable housing and think: it is so bad that there is a wonderful opportunity for an architect; anything I did would look better”, says Scarpa.
“So I pursued that course, but it was not easy”....

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